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Rhode Island. Adjutant General's Office | State Archives Catalog

Name: Rhode Island. Adjutant General's Office

Historical Note:

Today, the Office of the Adjutant General is part of the Executive Department of the Rhode Island government. The Adjutant General serves as chief of staff for the governor, director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (previously known as the Rhode Island Defense Civil Preparedness Agency—see timeline below), Homeland Security Advisor for the State of Rhode Island, and Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard. As Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard, the Adjutant General oversees a multitude of programs, both civil and military. In terms of power over naval and military affairs in Rhode Island, the Adjutant General is second only to the Commander-in-chief, the Governor. Due to the fact that the Adjutant General is both the chief of staff for the governor and the Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard, he or she performs both state and federal functions. Currently, the Adjutant General is appointed by the governor for a four (4) year term (see timeline below for the evolution of the appointment and duration of term of the Adjutant General).

The first militia in Rhode Island was organized in 1638 in Portsmouth, RI and was referred to as the “Traine Band.” The predecessor to the National Guard, this Traine Band is mentioned in the 1647 Acts and Orders of Rhode Island, along with more recently formed Bands. The first person appointed to the position of Adjutant General was appointed in 1779, although the Office of the Adjutant General was not officially established by statutory authority until 1856. Until 1935, the Adjutant General was a part of the separate Military Department of the State, but in 1935, with the reorganization of the government of Rhode Island, the Military Department, and the Adjutant General, became part of the Executive Department.

The Rhode Island Militia began at the beginning of the colony’s existence, when each male citizen was expected to arm himself and protect the colony if needed. This informal system lasted until the Revolution, when it became clear that the Militia was too large to function without formal, colony-wide leadership. An Act in 1779 organized the Militia, dividing it into companies and brigades, with district leadership. The Act also created the positions of Director and Purveyor-General of the Military Hospitals, Surgeon and Physician-General, Adjutant-General, Quarter-Master-General, and Commissary-General. Although the Militia Act was frequently amended over the following 100 years, the function and formation of the State Militia remained largely intact until 1903. The 1903 Federal Militia Act reorganized State Militias in order to bring them closer together and more closely monitored by the Federal Government and the United States Army. With this Act, and a name change in 1909 to the Rhode Island National Guard, the State Militia came closer to being the National Guard with which we are familiar today. The National Guard was split into land and air components, the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard, in 1947. In 2004, the headquarters of these two components merged to form the Rhode Island Joint Force Headquarters. The Adjutant General is the commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard. The current mission of the National Guard “is twofold, to prepare for immediate mobilization in the event of war or national emergency and to maintain peace, order, and public safety in the state in time of disaster or when otherwise directed by the Governor” (Rhode Island Government Owner’s Manual, 2009-2010, 137).

During World War II, the State Guard was formed after the full deployment of the Rhode Island National Guard. The purpose of the State Guard was to protect the state while the National Guard fulfilled its federal responsibilities. The State Guard was formed on November 7, 1940 and was disbanded in 1946.

Although the Rhode Island Militia, in its original inception, was the state’s military force, the name of that body eventually changed to the Rhode Island National Guard. A Rhode Island Militia still exists, however, but with a different, more historic function. After the formation of the National Guard, “the mission of the State Militia [was] to depict, in a living a public way, the military heritage of Rhode Island” (1999 RI Adjutant General Annual Report, 5). The Militia consists of modern re-enactments of historic companies and brigades and, through the Rhode Island Council of Historic Chartered Military Command Units, strives “to provide in depth information of Rhode Island’s history through reenactments, displays and material both military and civilian accouterments, and lecturers at many schools and ceremonies up and down the east coast” (1999 RI Adjutant General Annual Report, 41).

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